PAT EATON-ROBB,Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut wideout Nick Williams is small, speedy, gutsy and lines up in the slot, inviting inevitable comparisons to another receiver who plays in New England — Wes Welker of the Patriots.
“(Welker)’s like a hero of mine, everything he does,” said the Huskies’ 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior. “He’s so involved in their offense. I think the comparisons are a little lofty. He’s got a couple hundred catches in the NFL and I’ve got like 15 in college.”
But Williams, like Welker, has turned himself from a role player into a focal point of the offense.
A running back and defensive back in high school, Williams first gained notice at UConn on special teams. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a sophomore and earned all-conference honors as a return specialist, a label he says angered him.
“I just knew that as a player I had more to offer and bring to the team and help the team win than just being the kick returner,” he said. “I used that as motivation in every season since I’ve been here to just become a better player, a more well-rounded player. I want to be more of an impact player on offense than just special teams.”
After not registering a catch as a sophomore, he had 11 last season, including a 64-yard touchdown against Buffalo and a 26-yard score against Western Michigan. This year, he’s moved to the top of the depth chart and also is being used to run sweeps in the Huskies’ wildcat package. He turned in a Welker-like performance in Connecticut’s 37-0 season-opening win over Massachusetts, piling up 143 all-purpose yards.
“Nick is a talent,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “I think we would all agree with that. So, we’re trying to put him in situations where he can go 1-on-1, especially in the underneath and short game.”
He set up the Huskies’ opening touchdown against UMass with a 16-yard reception and a 9-yard rush, then followed that by returning the next UMass punt 34 yards. He had three punt returns for 66 yards and returned the second-half kickoff 37 yards.
“If you make 10 yards on a punt return, you’re jumping up and down,” Pasqualoni said. “That’s like you’re saying to yourself as a coach, you just made a first down, before the offense got on the field. So, you put together a couple of 34 yarders … Nick can do that for us.”
He also opens up the offense for other players, by drawing so much attention to himself. Just ask Geremy Davis, a 6-5 wideout who caught five passes in the season opener.
“He plays bigger than his size and he’s so quick and talented,” Davis said. “I just love the way he plays.”
Williams was named a team captain just before the season opener. He said it may sound like a cliche, but he believes he wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for the coaches and recruiters who overlooked him because of his size, or told him he was not quite good enough to be an impact player.
“Not quite fast enough, not quite tall enough, not quite this. Always, ‘Not quite,’” he said. “So, I’ve always used that as motivation to work a little harder, stay a little extra and do a little more work than the other guys were doing.
“I didn’t feel I was at a disadvantage, but other people did, so I wanted to prove them wrong.”
So far, so good.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.